Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 13:33 GMT

Indonesia: Clinton Should Raise Plight of Religious Minorities

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 2 September 2012
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Indonesia: Clinton Should Raise Plight of Religious Minorities, 2 September 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/504723d82.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should raise concerns about religious minorities and political prisoners with the Indonesian government during an upcoming visit to Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said today. Clinton will be in Jakarta on September 3, 2012, for talks on the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.

"Secretary Clinton should press the Indonesian government to take concrete steps to address rising religious intolerance," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. "Indonesia needs to recognize that oppressive laws and policies against religious minorities fuel violence and discrimination."

Indonesian authorities have failed to adequately address increasing incidents of mob violence by militant Islamist groups in Java and Sumatra against religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyah, Christians, and Shia Muslims. In 2011, Islamist groups attacked members of the Ahmadiyah religious community and their mosques in 14 locations. Even in the few cases of violence that have resulted in prosecutions, the authorities have often failed to charge all those involved, and punishments have been remarkably light.

Violence against the Shia community in East Java on August 26, in which almost a dozen Shia homes were set on fire and two Shia men were killed, underscores the continuing decline in security for religious minorities.

The authorities have also used the 1965 blasphemy law and laws on criminal defamation to prosecute members of religious minorities in violation of their basic rights. Some members of minority groups now facing criminal trials under these laws include:

·      Tajul Muluk, a Shia cleric arrested on April 13, who is on trial at the Sampang district court, East Java, for blasphemy, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, and extortion by threatening defamation, which carries a penalty of up to a year in prison, under article 335 of the Criminal Code for alleged "deviant teachings." The prosecution resulted from a January 1 fatwa from the Indonesian Ulema Lemma Council (MUI) in Sampang that described Tajul Muluk's teachings as "deviant."

·      Alexander An, a civil servant alleged to be an atheist, who was arrested on January 18 and is on trial at the Sijunjung district court, West Sumatra, for blasphemy and inciting public unrest, which carries a penalty of up to six years in prison under the Information and Electronics Transactions Law, for several posts on his Facebook account.

·      Hasan Suwandi, a guardian of the Ahmadiyah Cipeuyeum mosque in Cianjur, who is on trial at the Cianjur district court, West Java, for criminal defamation under article 310 of the Criminal Code, which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. The police brought the charges after Suwandi was quoted in the Radar Banyumas newspaper saying that the Bojongpicung police chief had given permission for an Ahmadiyah mosque to be reopened.

Criminal defamation laws in Indonesia allow powerful people, including public officials, to bring criminal charges against activists, journalists, consumers, and others who criticize them, and should be repealed. Criminal defamation charges have been filed against people who have held public demonstrations protesting corruption, written letters to newspaper editors complaining about fraud, registered formal complaints with the authorities, and published news reports about sensitive subjects. Recently, the criminal defamation laws have been used to target members of religious minorities.

Although Indonesia's constitution protects freedom of worship, various laws and governmental decrees restrict that freedom and have emboldened Islamist groups to target religious minorities. Pressure from these groups, as well as government decrees restricting the construction of houses of worship, have in recent years led local authorities to close hundreds of Christian churches and dozens of Ahmadiyah mosques. Even in cases in which the Supreme Court has ordered local authorities to reopen churches­ – such as the case of a Presbyterian church in Bogor, and the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi – local authorities have frequently refused to obey court rulings.

Clinton should urge Indonesia to revoke the 1969 and 2006 decrees on houses of worship, the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree, and various provincial and local government decrees enacted after the 2008 national decree.

"Holding minority religious beliefs in Indonesia should not put one's life and property at risk," Sifton said. "Secretary Clinton should not miss this important opportunity to speak out strongly on these issues."

The detention of political prisoners remains an important human rights concern in Indonesia. Indonesia is holding nearly 100 activists from the Moluccas and Papua for peacefully voicing political views, holding demonstrations, and raising separatist flags. These prisoners are usually convicted of treason (makar) and "inciting hatred" (haatzaiartikelen).

The political prisoners include a former Papuan civil servant, Filep Karma, serving a 15-year prison term in Abepura prison, and a Moluccan farmer, Ruben Saiya, serving a 20-year prison term in Nusa Kambangan Island prison. In November 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion that the Indonesian government was violating international law by detaining Karma, and called for his immediate release.

Clinton should urge the Indonesian government to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners held for the peaceful expression of their political views. Some prisoners, such as Karma, 53, and Ferdinand Waas, 64, have severe health problems and have received insufficient medical care. Clinton should also call for Indonesian authorities to provide adequate health care for all prisoners.

"Indonesia has made progress in rebuilding its economy and strengthening democracy, but ethnic minorities in Papua and the Moluccas are still left out of the country's changes," Sifton said. "The US should remind the government that persecuting peaceful political activists is an injustice that violates international law."

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